Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

How to save money and live longer...

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 27 Nov 06, 02:30 PM

I’ve had quite a few embarrassing moments since becoming Newsnight’s Ethical Man. There was the time my producer Sara filmed me in the bath (watch here); the day my wife decided to ask about my petrol company shares on my blog, and then there was the day Sara took the family car away. She made the whole family stand outside the house and wave as a man winched our car up onto a flat bed truck and drove it away (watch here).

I’ve owned a car ever since I first passed my test more than twenty years ago, and to be honest my wife Bee and I (and most of our friends) thought we wouldn’t last the first month without it, let alone a year. So – seven months on from that humiliating morning - how have we been getting on?

Watch the report here

Take a look at these two photos. That’s my friend Gideon with his daughter Serena and his son Tommy. That’s his Nissan Estate. And there it is again, this time crushed into a small cube on its way to the recycling plant.


So how does Gideon recycling his car have anything to do with my family’s new ethical lifestyle?

I’d love to be able to report that we’ve suffered terribly without the car. I’d love to be able to relate how my marriage is on the verge of ruin, how my children are isolated and lonely and how my social life has collapsed. Sadly that just wouldn’t be true.

In fact living without a car has been so easy we’ve decided to get rid of it permanently. Earlier this month I sold my lovely black two-litre Saab Estate to Gideon for twenty Euros - because that’s how much he had in his pocket when we shook on the deal.

Yes, it sounds impossibly virtuous and yes, writing this I still can’t quite believe we’ve done it. Clearly there has been a subtle greening process during my months as Ethical Man – a sort of “ethical grooming” – of which feeling smug is no small part. But in all honesty living without a car really isn’t that difficult. Not only that, getting rid of it saves us a small fortune.

Just do – as they say - the math. I was spending at least £400 a year on servicing and repairs and thanks to my profession and a couple of knocks my insurance was almost £1,000 a year. Chuck in petrol, depreciation (have you seen how prices have collapsed in the second hand car market recently?) and the fistful of parking tickets we were picking up each year and I reckon I am a good three grand a year richer without the car.

So how do we get by? Well it isn’t complicated: if we want to go somewhere we walk or cycle or take a bus or tube (or very occasionally a taxi) instead – simple as that.

Yes it takes a bit longer, and sometimes you just don’t bother doing things because they are too much hassle. It is also true that we live near central London and are very well served by public transport. And yes, eagle-eyed Ethical Man viewers will have noticed that we’ve got a clutch of young children, and may have concluded that we probably don’t get out much anyway – and that’s probably true too. But the bottom line is that it’s just not as hard as you’d think.

Bee - Ethical WifeWhich is not to say that there aren’t times when you really need a car. The occasion that really stands out is when we went on holiday in France with my entire close family during the height of this summer’s heat wave. Bee described the situation with atypical understatement - watch it here.

That’s why I flogged the Saab to Gid so cheap. The deal is this: Gid gets the car at a knock down price, and in return we get to borrow it back for up to six weeks a year. The idea is that so long as it doesn’t clash with Gid’s plans, we’ll get to use the car for the occasional weekend away and maybe a holiday in the summer. So we’re not giving up driving completely, but we won’t be able to just leap into the car if we feel like a curry or need to buy a pint of milk.

Not only that, thanks to our car share arrangement Gideon got his car recycled – up to 95% of the average car can be reused these days – and we got to film it.

But Sara is a tough taskmaster. She felt that giving up the car just wasn’t enough. She reckoned that if I was planning to get behind the wheel again then I’d need a bit of re-education and booked me an ethical driving lesson.

It was arranged by the Energy Saving Trust, which has all sorts of handy driving tips on its website. But the key is pretty straightforward: drive a bit more slowly.

So here’s my eco-driving tip: set the display constantly to show the fuel consumption. Then do what you can to set your own personal best.

We drove down to Dorset for the weekend by way of celebrating our new transport arrangements. I’ll be honest, normally I would barrel along the motorway at eighty miles an hour. This time I kept to a much more sedate speed, never exceeding seventy. The impact on our fuel consumption was spectacular. Instead of about thirty miles to the gallon I managed to top forty mpg. That’s a huge improvement – around 150 extra miles out of a full tank and because I wasn’t constantly overtaking, it was much less stressful.

So there you go, ethical living can save you cash, and help you live longer. And you can’t argue with that (or can you?)

Comments  Post your comment

Congratulations! I realised a few years ago that a car was out of my price range, and unnecessary for all the same reasons as you - I live in Central London and pretty much everything is possible by public transport. But not quite everything - it turns out that holidays with surfboards are not possible on public transport. Which is where car sharing schemes come in. If you've not got a friend (or, in my case, a father) to lend you a car, then I suggest a scheme such as Streetcar ( They don't operate all over the country, but they're growing.

We did a two week holiday in France with it this year and it worked a treat. And it's better than normal car hire because you just pick it up from a street near you.

  • 2.
  • At 05:52 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Vicky Murray wrote:

I gave up driving and my car over 2 years ago-I just found it too stressful-but I thought -the answer is to have taxis. this year I have substantially cut down my taxis and (being retired) have adjusted to the slower pace of life. I get buses-go most places by bus. Occasionally I will have a lift from a friend to get to somewhere difficult to get to. the railways always have been my friend. Long journeys I go by train and if I can't get to it easily I don't go. I feel guilty however that I am travelling to my son's wedding in Spain by air. Oh dear. I feel now I might take a different choice but the air ticket has been booked some time.

Incidentally I took advantage of a Government grant in the summer to have my loft insulation vastly improved. I had one inch-I now have 12 inches!!! I am amazed at the difference it has made to the warmth of the house and strongly recommend it.True I live in a terrace house but I am having the central heating on remarkably littler. True it has been mild but I know what my house used to be like.-

I would really like to have one of those heat loss tests done on my house.And of course I have energy saving bulbs-had to go to B and Q to get the equivalent of 100 watt.

I also buy my meat now from my local butcher- his meat is all reared locally -it is much better than supermarket meat and the animals have not had to travel miles and so transport is saved. There are other benefits too. I have invested in one of those trolleys to carry shopping so i can go to the butcher and market to buy my vegetables-again as many as poss grown locally-again saving on transport costs.And it's much nicer.A supoermarket shop gets done on a different day.

I recommend a more ethical way of life to all-I've a long way to go but I've made a good start.

Vicky Murray.

And yes I do have double glazing -I've put that in.

  • 3.
  • At 05:54 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Alan Payne wrote:

Great. I think a lot of people would love to get rid of a money munching object such as a car. The key though, is in the location.You must be well served by public transport and not live in the wilds of Aberdeenshire with one stagecoach a week passing a mile from your door.
The solution, to help our Aberdeenshire pockets and your environment, would be for all of us Northerners to put our cars to the crushers, and replace them with cars provided by all you - well served by public transport - Southern types, for 20 Euros.

  • 4.
  • At 05:54 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • John Wilson wrote:

What a load of tosh. I remember when I was an apprentice in the 60's. I could not afford the bus fare for the 5mile treck to work and back. After a long hard day lifting engines in and out I had to pedal up hill and down dale in the pouring rain and snow. As for social life you don't want to know. Then I got an old banger and life changed for me more than I can describe. The freedom it gave me and my girlfriend was on another plain. It was worth the 3 shillings and 4 pence a gallon when a pint of beer was 1 shilling. If every one gave up their car today there would be industrial caos the country would grind to a halt in days no hours. Lets just try it and put paid to the daft notion.

  • 5.
  • At 06:11 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • John wrote:

The key phrase in your blog is "I live in Central London". Try spending a month without a car in Milton Keynes or a small village in Oxfordshire. I think your opinion of giving up the car maybe be different.

  • 6.
  • At 06:34 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Will wrote:

Well done. I've been carless for 15 years (nearly half a life) and it's no problem at all. I've been able to do all the normal stuff (eating; mating; DIY) and I'm no pariah for it.

The ease comes from the sum of choices. If the place is good then you won't want to drive. If you support the local services (especially food/schools/public transport) then you won't have to drive. Cycling helps, as does campaigning to keep essential services from infilling with luxury flat developments. Walking is healthy and, if shared with a loved one, give a fabulous opportunity to talk. Win win, really.

The bad news is that poverty makes those choices much harder.

  • 7.
  • At 06:43 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Jeff Parry wrote:

I have lived in London and can confirm that you can live without a car without disrupting your life. However when I moved back to South Wales I discovered that a car is a necessary evil. The public transport here is not good enough to replace it. In my areas you'd be unable to go out after 7 p.m. Until the government and local authorities provide a good, clean, reliable and safe alternative the car will be king.

  • 8.
  • At 06:51 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Ethical Man posted: "I’d love to be able to report that we’ve suffered terribly without the car. I’d love to be able to relate how my marriage is on the verge of ruin, how my children are isolated and lonely and how my social life has collapsed. Sadly that just wouldn’t be true."

You'd love to? No wonder Bee feels a need to comment!

I'm wondering how she gets those needed extra bottles of milk you mention, when you're at work until late and there are small children at home.

You perhaps should mention that that the BBC provides cars for work as needed.

I did the same maths and reached the same conclusion more than 15 years ago. I use a taxi about once a fortnight, and rent a car about four days a year. But the failings of public transport do restrict one's possiblities, and I'm not certain how "green" taxis and public transport actually are, especially compared ot how they could be. Perhaps since you have chosen to use more public transport you could look into that? Why are taxis and buses all still diesel, and apparently without exhaust filters? What generates the power for the railways these days?

The lack of baggage handling on railways, and the poor (or non-existent) public transport at festival / holiday times are big barriers. As are poor connections and other inconveniences, like early "last trains". Using a train to return home from a dinner, play, concert, or political meeting in London is rarely possible, and that's an unnecessary barrier to community involvement.

  • 9.
  • At 07:31 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Meg wrote:

Do you have teenagers?
I grew up in a family without a car & we managed quite well, but during my teenage years I sometimes felt terrible because my parents never took their share of the pick-ups....I'd go to my friends house for the evening and her mum would have to bring me home. My friend would come to my house and her mum would have to pick her up...public transport is not really safe for young girls late at night.
On the up side, during daylight hours at least, I became independent earlier than most of my piers.
Now I live in Rual East Texas where there's no hope of surviving without a car & everyone drives huge cars so it's really quite dangerous to drive anything that gets a good mpg ratio. Plus, do you know how long it takes to get from Dallas to Houston driving 55mph?

  • 10.
  • At 08:30 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Liz wrote:

Isn't the argument that it's impossible to get rid of the car if you don't live in a big city self-defeating?

My parents live in a tiny village, 4 miles from the nearest town, that is served by buses between 7am and 4.30pm.

If half of the village got rid of their cars. What would happen?

The car-less would put pressure on the local council and their MP to increase services, run buses for longer hours more frequently and meet commuter trains. Local businesses would second with additional pressure for buses to service the main supermarkets and shopping centre, meet theatre, cinema, pub & club closing times. How many more buses would be running by the end of the year?

Unforunately it's all hypothetical. It's like a queue in an un-tried dentists surgery. It might stop a great deal of pain, but no one wants to be the first!

  • 11.
  • At 10:18 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • grahame wrote:

Well done and all that... but there are train services from London to all sorts of places (including Dorset) you know!

I don't believe that this tokenism does anything except allows us viewers to hear the slow expansion of Bee's vocabulary.

The whole experiment is very noble but flawed from the start. Simple extrapolation from the efforts of volunteers is not the way to save the planet. Nor, for that matter is a nanny state forcing people to be environmentally friendly.

Without a tailored public transport system built up by aware goernments, messing about with dusty graffiti and bicycles is a terrible option for a family with small kids, and I can already seeing the mask slipping, Borrowing your car back for part of the year would be easier for millions if car rental were made more attractive.

I'm all holy according to your criteria: I do all my shopping by bicycle, use public transport and own no car. But what for me is a realistic option would involve a great deal of hardship for many two-children families.

The whole of Sara's ethical crusade still smacks of middle-class toeknism.

  • 13.
  • At 11:34 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • michael jackson wrote:

I have never driven since I got the ethical bug in my teens ( some time ago ). I cycled everywhere or used public transport.
I now live in a quiet village in the middle of nowhere and do I miss not having a car ? - No. There is a bus service every ninety minutes and you adjust to it. And the beauty of it is - the driver is a regular who knows all his passengers - bus stops are irrelevent as the driver picks you up anywhere safe and drops you as near to your destination as possible.
Anything bulky or difficult to move is delivered - and usually next day.
The waste collection is set up for recycling nnd there is a real sense of community.
It can be done it just needs some initiative.

  • 14.
  • At 11:44 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Bruce Cain wrote:

Even by the BBC's standards of absence of journalistic rigour, tonight's ethicial man item was insulting to the intelligence of the viewer. Why does the BBC (for which viewers pay) see it to be its role to offer unqualified support to the environmentalist myth of the impact man made carbon dioxide?. No doubt if the subject of this charade had found that he could not do without his car,as many people who inhabit the real world as opposed to the fabricated world of BBC journalism cannot, the experiment would not have seen the light of day. Even if you believe the aforesaid myth, why does not the BBC make any reference to the absolute futility of the gesture of the family in question in the face of the acceleration of production of carbon dioxide by China and India?

  • 15.
  • At 11:45 PM on 27 Nov 2006,
  • Lesley Boatwright wrote:

A year or so ago, my car was vandalised to such an extent that it could not be economically repaired. I spent the insurance money on a bottle of gin and took to the buses. OK for me, an old lady going shopping in south-east London, where the transport infrastructure is reasonable? - but there on the buses I met Reality. I soon learnt not to go out when the schools were let out and the screaming multitudes rushed aboard and made an impenetrable barrier round the way out. But there on the buses were young mothers who either could not afford a car or their husbands had driven to work in the only one available. They were festooned with fractious children, trying to cope with shopping bags, and just about at the end of their tether. Being ethical is OK if it's a considered decision, but these women hadn't chosen that particular torment and I don't seen why anyone should be holier than thou about it.

  • 16.
  • At 10:34 AM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Mike wrote:

If it's a salve to Ethical Man's (and wife's) conscience, fine. However, I would like to know where he stands on aviation, for example.

All his good work for ditching his car for the whole year would be undone by just one flight (on his own) to anywhere in Europe. The public transport argument also will not hold weight even 10 miles outside of London. It is slow, prone to breakdown and ruinously expensive.

Ditching the car is simply not an option to millions of people.

It would have been a better to suggest that by replacing all the incandescent light bulbs in your home for energy saving ones, turn down the thermostat and drive sympathetically. This is not an expensive option for millions of people and saves money.

In one year, the energy saved by doing this would allow a family to run one small diesel car (bio-diesel of course) for almost 6,000 miles a year. This would be eminently more practical for the vast majority of people living in the UK.

There are many, many other options that can be considered, running the old mantra 'car bad, car bad' isn't neccessarily so.

It's all a little disingenuous really and smacks of environmental tokenism and one-upmanship.

  • 17.
  • At 10:36 AM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Andy Jenkinson wrote:

Nice idea; if I lived in London, I'd do it. Intrigued by the idea, I just did an internet search to try and find a car pool near me. It was 30 miles away. So it seems I'll have to stay with my own car. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a transport system that extended beyond major cities?

  • 18.
  • At 10:45 AM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Mark Neve wrote:

Well bully for you. I am becoming tired of the sanctimonious blathering of a well paid reporter living in central London preaching about how "ethical" he is. Try living in the real world for a while instead of the luvvie life of London media. You people and your "holier than thou" attitudes fill me with contempt. So, you sold your Saab for 20 euros did you? And you are actually proud of that? You could afford the car in the first place and are in a position to right off that money without a thought as to where that money might have done a bit more good. "I sold my car for 20 euros" how patronising can you get?

What I do with these posts is copy and paste what’s been written, with the comments below, and then work through jotting away to come up with my contribution. Here you go:

The first thing I thought was “Oh, wow. He’s managed to persuade someone else to give up their car.” But then I find that what looks like a fairly OK piece of kit has been crushed and sent off to the recycler (how much energy in the air from all that... right now), and replaced by the Saab. Now at least that’s not a new car (at 5-25% bad eco-stuff, depending on who you believe, in the making), but really...

So basically you still get to use the car almost as much as you would (ie: when you only need it) and Gid gets to drive around the rest of the time, emitting away. It’s not the car that pollutes (figure above notwithstanding), it’s the driving it around that does, isn’t it?

So basically about the same traveling is going to happen, and you save on capital and most running costs, and Gid covers the rest. Neat.

You can afford a lot more than most obviously, but then you shunt the cost elsewhere anyway.

I wish I could be so ethical. Or have such friends. I have a bit of swamp in Florida should they wish to get in touch.

For those (Justin, you’re welcome – it’s in London. But I’m afraid I’m driving in as it’s all the demo gear and the family!) wishing to find a few more fun and practical things to do whilst staying at home, pop along and visit us and a few other sat ‘I’m Dreaming Of A Green Christmas at the Science Museum:

  • 20.
  • At 12:30 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • jon Luisada wrote:

I did this myself about 15 years ago. and , yes it does save you a packet in more ways than one. That £3000 that wasnt spent would have needed around £4500 to £5000 in gross earnings to spend in the first place! so it if you earnt £4500 less you could probably spend more time with the kids!I currently couldnt do without the cars (yes cars..) as the 3M cycle ride on the school run is just not viable from a safety standpoint. If the local state school had been any good we could have walked in.bad school system therefore has a direct environmental effect.
The one car is small and used as much as possible, the other rather larger and used less.I drive as little as possible, not least because it is soooo boring, i'm 100yards from the roundabout and even I can see nothing is coming but the dollop on the roundabout stops to have a look.more braking more gear changes , bad road observation has an environmental effect also. If you find driving at 70 easier than er a little faster then you must be asleep. The driving workload is far higher , and you spend a lot of time looking in the rear view mirror, because thats where all the traffic is coming from!
Has anybody done a study on the environmental effects of the non existent law enforcement. How many school runs, people picking other people up etc because its safer?
I like the car share idea though. Trouble is I really do have to be at places in a very short time , public transport doesnt usually do it for work purposes.I rarely drive into the Birmingham during the day though,so sometimes it works.

  • 21.
  • At 12:46 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Simon wrote:

I am facing a terrible dilemma.

I have lived in London for more than 10 years and have never owned a car, relying on the tubes and busess to get around town and on the trains to make frequent visits to family outside London. I can't truthfully say that I was orginially motivated by environmantal concerns, more cost and the inconvenience of finding parking. Over time it also became a green issue and I was proud to not have a car.

Now I find that despite my home being about to become part of the expanded congestion charge zone, I am seriously considering buying a car. The problem is that I am increasingly scared to use public transport. It may sound silly but the buses are full of threatening groups of children who vandalise the top decks whilst playing loud music and daring you to say something let alone intervene. The trains are just as bad especially at night with drunks or gangs of youngsters. Following two murders in recent years I am increasingly nervous even walking from the station to my house.

I feel really humilated having to be scared of kids but nowadays they seem to be the biggest threat to personal safety especially when they hunt in packs!!!

I really want to be green but I have to feel safe and so public transport has to be properly policed.

  • 22.
  • At 01:42 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Keith Walker wrote:

Scrapping a running car is hardly environmentally friendly. Seems likely the car that was crushed was serviceable, with quite a few years of life in it (and the production of a new car takes a lot of energy).
Similarly, complaining about depreciation of a new car is a bit strange, when you could happily buy a 2nd hand car and let someone else take the depreciation.
Cars now seem to be worthless when they still have years of useful life in them.

  • 23.
  • At 02:02 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • kevin rolfe wrote:

Well done.

We have two cars and to give them up would mean one of us would have to give up there job the public transport in the area is ok but my wife works 30 miles away and the school run + Childminder run in the mornings + the afternoon pick ups the drop offs to the playcentre then back to work mean it is immpossiable to give up a car with out giving up work. that being said, during the late 80's early 90's i was very much on the side of the golbal warming division however now things have changed. I have looked at all the evidence and am not totally convinced. big Oil companys pay for reports saying theres no GW and Greenpeace/Friend of the earth pay for reports that say there is GW. The Stark report starts by say it assumes GW will happen yet 4 million years ago we had an Ice Age and there were no cars. Whilst there is an argument to say er what if..Oh well we will do it anyway. Im just not convinced. If the Government really thought GW was real they would tell the Car companys to only make Duel fuel cars. or make public transport into London free during rush hour rather that make it cheaper to drive. That said i do try to recycle as much as possiable, we have a waste disposal unit to reduce food waste and would have solor panels if planning permission was granted and they were a little cheaper. I personally do not buy anything i see advertised thus not personally contributing to the consumer culture (but the wife and kids are not as good) besides Advertising is just begging anyway.

You see we have had these kind of proven science before something everyone signs up for then is found to be rubbish. lets not forget Churchill belived in Eugenics yet that was a load of old Tosh.

I guess was i ans saying is just because a scientist says it is real does not mean it is, look at who funded his research first then make a judgement if the funding comes from a person who has a vestid
intrest in a particular result then it can be seen as biased there for flawed just look at the non-existant link between the MMR, Autisum and the bowl problem one study on less than 100 kids said yes and a scandanavian one on 1,000's of kids said no yet the media only picked the one to say there was a link.. a few weeks ago the doctor who the report saying there was a link i belive was struck off. again do not always belive what the media report is fact. i could go on but think you get the picture

  • 24.
  • At 02:42 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Don Brown wrote:

I've got 20 quid in my wallet - you don't have another Saab you want to get rid of do you?

  • 25.
  • At 03:34 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Keith wrote:

No way will I ever give up my car.

Yes, I'll recycle. Yes, I'll cut down the amount of energy and water I use. I will avoid unnecessary journeys and try to buy local produce.

But I cannot abide to sacrifice my independence. I despise my daily commute, crammed into a bus with dozens of other people with their noise and smells. Then trampling through a crowded station to wait on a freezing platform for a train.

On the occasions I am able to drive into the office I arrive relaxed and calm.

When I take the bus (and train) I arrived tired and stressed.

I will never give up my car.

  • 26.
  • At 03:52 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Great work Rowlatt ! I got rid of my car years ago after having a couple of epileptic fits which meant I had to give back my driving licence for a while.

[Okay, the car went to my sister, so there is a bit of buck passing here..]

But though I got my licence back after a year I didn't get another car. I have no sympathy for people who say 'I simply couldn't live without a car'. For some people this may be the truth. But for most people living in towns they could adjust - and with climate change they will soon have to learn. Way to go, JR.

  • 27.
  • At 05:21 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Philip Croft wrote:

Most relevant points have been made but, It all seemed so 'naice'seeing the 'Waltons' cycling/walking during one of the warmest, dryest summers on record. Give us a report on how they cope, with a full load of shopping, and the kids crying with exhaustion, and while it is persisting down with rain or snow. Where I live, an unvandalised bus shelter with a roof, is regarded as desirable property. Hanging around in the dark and cold, waiting for the next bus ( that might not bother to turn up) is a race between it---and the local nutter's finding you! Even then, they might join you on board, and provide an uncalled-for cabaret of expletive's and threatening behaviour! YEP! I can't wait to get rid of my car, that loverly, reliable, comfy, warm friend. Oh look! I can see it out the window--just six feet away.

Parents ditched their car when I was around ten (that was around 20 years ago). We cycled to the nearest town - some 5 miles away for shopping (and to catch a train/bus to locations further afield).

Never had a car since - never missed it. And I've lived variously in rural Wales, semi-rural Midlands and London. I currently commute nearly 20 miles a day (takes around 40 minutes each way) in London.

I always try to live within cycling distance of my workplace.

Basically anywhere within 8-10 miles of where you live is doable on the bike within an hour by a averagely fit adult (and also children over the age of 10).

I appreciate some people live in very rural locations or are unfit who will need a car - but for most of us it's a convenience that you pay through the nose for. Personally I'd rather spend my cash on something else.

Its not just ethics that makes getting rid of your car sensible. Global oil production is set to reach a peak and then decline ever after. Peak oil as it is known. As oil prices become ever higher those who have learned to live without their car will be ahead of the game. Car-free folks will be fitter and richer too. I moved house and moved job in order to get rid of my car.

I lived in London for 4 years, worked for IT companies, and very few of my peers in their 20s or 30s had a car either.
Simple reason, when you have a season ticket, and cabs to share home, why would you need a car? and even if you did, where exactly would you park it?
In the country you actually need a car, but never in London, what is the big deal?

  • 31.
  • At 09:34 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Tony Goodson wrote:

They may say "do the math" but do you have to encourage the use of this absurd americanism?

I thought the programme was interesting... and yes, if I lived in a city I would definitely give up my car - I detest driving, but it's a necessity out here in Aberdeenshire. Nursery school for the little one is 5 miles away - it's only for 2.5 hours a day and amounts to 100 miles per week with all the return trips added up. That hasn't even taken me anywhere near the shops that I need to go to for my weekly shopping. I'm trying to avoid supermarkets... in fact December will see a supermarket free week... AND a waste free fortnight.. a tall challenge for sure.

Our nearest village with anything more than a garage with a mini shop is 12 miles away... the garage is 5 miles.

In fact... we've got two cars... which many people will shout about.. but if we didn't have two cars our mileage would be hugely inflated and it wouldn't be cost effective either in terms of hard cash, or carbon.

Oh... and buses!! There isn't one that would do the nursery run... although such a thing would make a great deal of sense. The one that goes to the shops has a stop about 3 miles away - and only runs a few times a day anyway.

On a final note.. I still can't see why your friend had to scrap his car to take on your one... it looked in reasonable condition and could have been freecycled to someone with a requirement for one - like me!! I know that you quoted 95% would be recycled, but that in itself uses up energy and produces carbon!

  • 33.
  • At 10:04 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Steve wrote:

What about the real issue:

The diesel pollution from taxis, trains, buses, lorries, construction vehicles, and ships ... and, of course diesel cars.

(1) Diesel exhaust not only contributes to ozone formation and the production of fine particulates, it also is a global warmer. For example, in the US heavy-duty lorries alone emit around 400 million metric tons of heat-trapping gases annually, accounting for about 6 percent of US carbon emissions (this is a bit out of date - check the internet though you will be shocked at the amount).

(2) The cancer risk from diesel emissions is about ten times higher than the cancer risks from all other hazardous air pollutants combined. According to a study by the US Health Effects Institute, more than 98% of the particles emitted from diesel engines are fine particles, less than 1 micron in diameter. These are especially hazardous because they can bypass respiratory defence mechanisms and lodge deep in the lungs.

(3) Have a look on the internet to see how much more polluting diesel is (and contributable to the incidence of asthma and other respiratory conditions). Yet now it seems every other car on the road (not to mention all the other vehicles mentioned above) is a diesel.

(4) In myopinion, without government intervention, car manufacturers will have to make more and more diesel vehicles (or go out of business) because the misguided public are unwittingly buying them in their droves, believing they are being somehow more efficient.

(5) Diesel fuel is more expensive than petrol. But because the engine will in general return a slightly higher miles-per-gallon efficiency, our government is delighted to tax people to the hilt at the fuel pumps, as sales of diesel rise, while focusing on the usual soft target tax revenue-earner ... the private motorist.

Don't get me wrong, an alternative to both fuels which is sustainable would be ideal, but giving up a car and making your family take diesel-polluting buses and taxis is a ridiculous concept and has no impact on the real problem.

Newsnight - why not investigate the full environmental costs of transportation (private, public and commercial)- and look into diesel fuel.

Suggesting that taking your kids on a crowded polluting bus and in taxis is adding to the smokescreen on this issue (pardon the pun).

  • 34.
  • At 11:34 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Brian Doherty wrote:

This is all commendable, but when is "Ethical Man" going to do away with his television? I've been living a TV-less life for 17 years and it would be surprising how easy it is. Or would that be a step too far?

  • 35.
  • At 02:53 AM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • Trunker wrote:

I found London most easy to navigate on a powerful motorcycle; 50 mpg and 0-60 in 3 seconds. Car tax was cheap too. If they made air conditioned ones now that I live in Texas I'd buy one.

It seems to me that if you have young children (mine are teens) then you/your wife will suffer with public transport.

I would buy my Tesco shopping online and have them deliver it - saving me the cost of my girlfriend going to town and back in a taxi and all those "impulse buys"!

Too bad they don't offer that here.

Hiring cars once in awhile may not be as expensive as it appears to be. A good exercise and reality check is to make a list of all car expenses for a year; averaging fuel expense for a year etc. When these expenses ie: car insurance, license fees, repair bills, depreciation on car etc. are down in writing before you, you will likely see that you can afford a cab or car rental from time to time and still be way ahead of the game financially.

best regards,


Well getting rid of your car might be all right if you live in a major city with plentiful public transport but out here in North Lincolnshire it's just not an option. I couldn't even take my son to school. Perhaps we could walk but I think that the 20 mile round trip, twice a day, isn't quite feasible.

Then there's my business. I'm a photographer. So how am I to visit my clients with upwards of 150 kilograms of kit? Perhaps a horse and cart?

All this going green stuff ignores one vital fact. We, people that is, pollute the environment with our wastes and exhalations. Human flatulence is not a joke but a serious threat to the environment. Only when I hear calls for drastic population reduction, say a drop of 87% of the global population, will I take any of this seriously.

  • 38.
  • At 10:29 AM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • Paul Chandler wrote:

The places I visit for non work activies do not have public transport - why should I give up my hobbies / interests for some liberal, nanny state thinking.

I have a car, enjoy driving and pay for the right to do so and very little would make me give it up.

As for flying - have had 24 flights this year and looking forward to doing more next year.

  • 39.
  • At 11:34 AM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • Stuart Fairney wrote:

Why is it "ethical" not to have a car?

I leave for work around 6.20am and road transport at that hour consists of me and a local bus with one guy on it. Wouldn't it be more "ethical" of him to buy a car?

And if you like the tube, good for you, try going to Green Park on the tube around 8.30am, you might discover the tube needs a congestion charge!

Then of course there is the possibility of being murdered or otherwise attacked or insulted on public transport outside of peak hours.

And with respect, move outside of tube cover (99%+ of the country) and tell me how "easy" life is then without a car.

Guys, really, I don't pay a licence fee to be lectured and patronised by some London based journalist. Ditch this pointless "holier than thou" stuff.

  • 40.
  • At 12:44 PM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • Matt wrote:

I'm quite suprised that you needed a car living in Central London anyway, so it doesn't seem to be that much of a sacrifice. It's hardly virtuous not having a car whilst living in a city with the best public transport links in the UK. Sadly us provincial types aren't as well served, so I guess we'll just have to put up with your preaching anyway.

  • 41.
  • At 01:14 PM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • Philip Croft wrote:

This issue has been done to death on other post boards/bloggs . Although you may get a self satisfied rosey glow from doing your bit (and I do do my bit) I can't help thinking that it is all a colossal waste of time, UNLESS--it is a GLOBAL effort. It has been said on many Tv/Radio progs, that our total contribution to carbon output etc, is a mere 2%. China alone will wipe out that effort with one years growth. Even our GREAT and TRUSTY partners in Europe are'nt all playing the game. Why is it--that we--the boy scouts of the world, are always the ones who 'volunteer', like some latter-day corporal Jones ( of Dads Army fame) to be the one's to------- whatever? I think all this panic is deliberate government spin and diversion, from other issues that threaten them, and of course---provides yet another terrific excuse for 'robber Brown'to create more stealth taxes----just when he was running out of ideas no doubt! Then of course -----there's Tony's legacy----'He who saved the world'.--------S_U_P_E_R !!!!!!!!!

  • 42.
  • At 04:39 PM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • Alasdair wrote:

Hey, less of the London bashing. I have lived in London, Dublin and Edinburgh and have never absolutely needed a car, although they can be very handy. Now I know that these are all cities and not the countryside - point taken. But for the large number of Britons who live in the city the point is not so much that you never need a car, but that you rarely need a car.. the fewer of us that drive, the safer it is to cycle and the nicer it is to walk. This will also make the streets safer.

I do agree though that the government must show leadership and not leave environmental issues up to pioneers and journalists....

  • 43.
  • At 05:25 PM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • Robert wrote:

I just thought I'd let you know that as a result of Justin's latest report my Dad has decided to get rid of his Range Rover and will use public transport instead. Well done Justin!

  • 44.
  • At 05:31 PM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • James Brown wrote:

OK so you live in London where the "public transport" is second to none in the country.
A lot of other folk would like to give up the car but when you live in areas north of Milton Keynes public transport gets a bit thin on the ground.
One village near where I live in Staffordshire sees a bus three times a day but none on a Sunday!!
There are no shops or post office - they are 7 miles away.
Even where I live transport is poor - I can have a bus pass but with buses that do not turn up - turn up late or drive straight past you am i likely to give up my car.
I work 11 miles from home (only because there is nothing similar in my home town!)it would take me 20 mins walk to the bus, 45 mins on the first bus then because of poor timetabling it would take a further hour. The return journey is actually worse buses get very few and far between after 6pm!!!!

  • 45.
  • At 06:03 PM on 29 Nov 2006,
  • Philip Croft wrote:

All governments from time in memorial, have banged on about freeing the roads of congestion. Equally--they have all cynically tried to tax us out of sight. THE ONLY WAY---that the public wil give up their cars freely, is when the government create's and implements, a decent, reliable, and modern, co-ordinated transport system. You can add--at reasonable cost too. All we have had, is endless 'enquiries and studies' at enormous cost, where enough hot air has been generated to keep a wind farm going. Instead of implementing such a life enhancing scheme, with all it's environmental benefits first, they want us to abandon our cars, and put up with a situation resembling Cairo or Calcutta.

We've had a number of correspondents writing in to say that they can't see the point me giving up my car.

Philip Croft (post 41) points out that the annual growth of China's carbon dioxide emissions is equal to this country's entire annual output. According to him my puny efforts are "a colossal waste of time"

That sounds like a counsel of despair to me. Of course one family getting rid of a car won't save the world but surely the only way society can change is if individuals change their behaviour.

All I'm saying is that doing without a car can be pretty easy and not only that can save you a whole lot of cash.

And look at post 43. Robert says his Dad has been inspired to give up his Land Rover. So now there are two cars off the road.

Who knows where this will end eh?

  • 47.
  • At 12:01 AM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Dave, Allington wrote:

I'm living in Sheffield at the moment in the city centre. I generally walk everywhere - even the 15/20 min walk from Tesco with 6 bags (good exercise). But to get a bus from town to my snooker hall about 2 miles from centre costs £1.50, you can't get a return so it's £3 there and back. Journeys in Leeds & Sheffield have gone up over 50% in a year or so. If there are a few of us,we can spend over a tenner on bus fares. Obviously as long as there is no financial insentive to switch to Public Transport people will continue to travel in comfort, without the risk of being spat on by collections of goons dominating the top deck. i suggest that if the buses were free in city centres, with large well organised Park&Ride and rail systems it would really have a positive effect. Ideal world theory!

  • 48.
  • At 05:45 AM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Jonathan Clarke wrote:

Who has decided that not having a car is "ethical", by whose standards? Most people need a car to live today, its as simple as that, noboday likes to voluntarily get fleeced by the tax levies on petrol if they can help it. As the price of trains for commuters has gone up there is no viable alternative. Research has shown that even if you got rid of every car in the world, carbon emissions as a whole would only reduce by 1.5%. Climate change happens, there is nothing realistic you can do about it -time to rejoin the real world and stop following a fashionable political agenda.

  • 49.
  • At 06:52 AM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Dave Cooper wrote:

I gave up my car in 2001 in the United States. The car culture just took too much of my time and money. I spent too much time sitting in queues in it in commuting or looking for a parking space. And I spent too much money on gas, upkeep, parking tickets, registration, and insurance. Yet the value of the thing plummetted quicker than any of my possessions. I knew it would be difficult to live without a car in a car culture like the US. So I moved to Amsterdam. I have a bicycle here. I paid €160 for it, but could have got it cheaper, but I wanted some luxury, like gear changes and hand grip breaks. The upkeep is about €20 per year, but could be less if I did the work myself. It is quite reliable, and I even go on holiday with it to Germany, Belgium and into the Dutch countryside. Suffices in our winters too. Surprisingly, I have also not had to join a gym to keep fit. And I have had much surgery on my leg from a motorbike accident, and recently had a hip resurfacing operation. Having a bike for my principal transportation has actually helped in me overcoming my mobility handicap. I recommend it. I am 56 years old. I don't miss cars.

I'd love to give up my car too, but I live in a village with limited public transport, my wife works 10 miles away and I go 40 miles into London. For me it would cost more (even taking all car costs into consideration) and take longer to travel by train. So we have 2 cars and do what we can to limit their impact.

For my commute I go up to around 65-70mph on the motorway. I get overtaken a lot, but often catch them up at the next lot of congestion. As my average speed for the journey is under 30mph going faster will not make much difference and it is more stressful. I try to drive efficiently by anticipating when I need to slow down and so Zafira diesel averages over 46mpg. I reckon that many drivers could decrease their fuel usage by at least 5% without taking significantly longer to get there.

I make a bigger difference by being able to work from home sometimes, but it's just not practical to always do that.

My motto at the moment is to try and be part of the solution and less a part of the problem.

  • 51.
  • At 02:18 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Whereas the sentiment is all well and good, for many if not most it is a dream. Given the option I think I would quite like not to have the expense of a car. However, I need a car to get to work and perform at shows. Public transport is a joke, it would work out as expensive if not more so than driving, and I couldn't do my shows (I have a lot of equipment to carry). Additionally, taking rail services more than a few miles is extortionately time consuming. When its cheaper, quicker and less stressful to take a car than public transport you really have to wonder.

If you want to improve the situation we need inexpensive, punctual, effective and uncrowded public transport. Since privatisation its only gotten worse. So instead of beating us with a stick to use public transport (ie by insane taxation) throw us a carrot and make public transport a viable option for the majority. Most of our European Counterparts manage it, why can't we?

To top it all off, this week the announcement was made that Rail fares were going up above inflation yet again!

  • 52.
  • At 02:33 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Philip Croft wrote:

It's not fair!--Justin has singled ME out----NO one is saying that your efforts are'nt laudable, or the 'message' unimportant Justin.I do stand by 'MY' message though, which is that we can't be a voice in the wilderness--it has to be a truly global effort, to justify the enormous change to society that your proposals would bring---if it were implemented enmass. Have you really given this much consideration? The job losses alone for instance, how many people work in the auto manufacture and servicing industries etc ? Then there's the making and delivery of spare parts, one stop petrol garages that many rely on for forgotten items on the way home. We may not be a major producer of vehicles now, but there sure is a hell of a lot people still reliant on the industry for work, thanks mostly to Japanese companys. How about road haulage ? personally, and I'm not alone, I think there is enormouse room for change here. Our roads are clogged up with huge lorries (and getting bigger/heavier), moving goods that should never have been allowed to be taken from the railways.But thats another story. I'm old enough to remember urban streets empty of private cars---when buses by the score, in different Co. livery, raced to get to 'Stops' first, where queues 100 yds long were. The thing is--people LIVED yards from bus stops then, because the masses lived in the cities. After the post war clearencies, people were moved out--into green fields---miles from anywhere---but the regular bus services did'nt---and STILL HAS'NT !! I'm not saying we should'nt all do our bit---the quality of life WOULD be enhanced---but lets keep our feet on the ground, and our heads out of the clouds--and just be realistic, not a( ''council of despair'')as you put it. To me---my car represents freedom of choice, and mobility ( restricted I know) but I organise my usage, and don't make unecessary journey's. I also see my car as a mobile home, with most of those comforts. Nothing will be done by governments, if economies are threatened , with mass job losses, and the political price to pay.--which of course--is the stance shown by that great statesman and ecologist of our time---President George W Bush !! WE live in hope ! ( I think ).

  • 53.
  • At 02:47 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Tom Amos wrote:

Have you fallen off your bike yet?

I think you are mad to cycle in London. How would your wife or kids cope if you were killed or seriously injured? Do you have insurance? If not , get some!

Having displayed pictures of your previous injury on Newsnight, you are obviously aware how badly you can get injured. To date, I have had 7 months off work due to being injured while cycling in London.

(PS.I hope that your wife reads this!)

  • 54.
  • At 02:48 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • L Smith wrote:

I am dyspraxic which affects my eyesight, such that I can't drive. I wish I could. But it means that I have had to become accustomed to using public transport for all journeys. So I have no respect for people who say they 'have' to have a car, or 'need' a car. They only fool themselves. We've had a park-and-ride open recently in our area, and it's interesting to see how many car drivers now use it, who wouldn't have considered travelling by bus before.

  • 55.
  • At 02:50 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Suzanne wrote:

I live in a smallish village in Hertfordshire. Its neither Scotland nor London, but having a car is pretty useful.

However, like many families, we owned two cars. Now we own one, which my husband uses to get to work - I bike. I can bike because we made the conscious decision that I should work locally - another fairly logical decision in today's world

We have a car (a little Nissan Micra in case you're interested) if we need it for shopping or doing taxi services for the kids (although they are also encouraged to walk/bike when possible).

It would appear by seeing all the other mums dropping off their kids in the mornings (in their 4x4s or similar ...) that there are many other families in similar situations.

Isn't it really all about making sensible, logical choices and decisions. You don't have to be drastic to be green!

  • 56.
  • At 04:42 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Andy O wrote:

When did "ethical" acquire the exclusive definition "complying with all the latest enviro-fads"?

  • 57.
  • At 04:44 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Mosche Sechem wrote:

This is ridiculous. You sold your car for twenty Euros? Does being "green" mean turning into a gibbering crazy person and throwing money away?

  • 58.
  • At 02:34 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Philip Croft wrote:

On to-days BBC 1pm news--it was announced that ANOTHER new road report reccomends that, road use pricing is the only way to persuade drivers to leave the car at home. FANTASTIC! What a surprise! Thats this governments answer to EVERYTHING, It's all they know, they have'nt got the brains god gave geese. On the other hand--it just might have something to do with revenue raising. One bright spark said the levy COULD--be used to improve the road system !! WHAT?? Well I don't know what the current total annual tax on vehicle ownership or usage is---but I know it IS astronomic already, and proportionally very little of it is spent on road maintenance and improvement as it is---they must think we're as dumb as they are. Where I live, the roads ( and pavements) are a national disgrace, and dangerous, like a third world backwater. Most of these so-called green measures never affect the well off, with their huge 4x4's. Congestion charges are not a problem to them either, those who can't afford it simply find other route's to their destination, and shift the problem elsewhere ie. 'rat runs' As I said yesterday--Where is the co-ordinated transport masterplan ??

  • 59.
  • At 08:25 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Carl wrote:

I have recently had my diesel car modified slightly so that it runs on vegetable oil (NOT biodiesel, they are two completely, totally different things).
Yes, vegetable oil. The exact same stuff you can buy in any supermarket to cook with.
Diesel engines originally ran on vegetable oil, the first engine that Rudolph Diesel built ran on peanut oil. The kit is very simple, it heats the oil up to a temperature (using a heat exchanger) where it becomes runny like water and can be used by the engine.
If you don't believe me, and think I'm pulling your collective legs, go do some research.
Vegetable oil is much better to use, you can even run on waste veggie oil that restaurants and chippies throw away; just make sure it's filtered properly.

It is carbon neutral
It is renewable
It can be grown and manufactured locally
It has lower, cleaner emissions
It has better lubricating properties than mineral diesel, so it better for the engine
Vehicle performance is unaffected, and the smoggy exhaust is replaced by the lovely, slighly sweet aroma of popcorn, or hot oil

Biodiesel ain't as 'green' as you peeps may make it, you add a mixture of methanol and caustic soda to vegetable oil. Methanol is made from natural gas...which is, yep you guessed it, a FOSSIL FUEL. Plus there's all the waste glycerine that needs to be disposed of afterwards, and the biodiesel needs to be washed with lots of water to remove residual methanol, soaps and glycerine, and there's the question of what to do with that water. Why bother, when you can adapt your car to take veggie oil, and avoid the extra energy & resources needed to make biodiesel

Unfortunately, the government don't seem to want people to use this truly renewable, carbon neutral fuel. The amount of tax on veggie oil when used as a road fuel, is exactly the same as regular diesel you buy from the garges - 47.1p per litre.
So if I went into Sainsbury's and bought a litre of veggie oil for 58 pence, the tax on it would amount to £1.05. Yet I can get fossil fuel diesel from the garage for about 90 pence per litre.
The government proudly announced a reduced rate of fuel duty of 27.1p per litre for biodiesel (which needs a fossil fuel product to make it) 'To encourage the use of renewable fuels'. This reduced rate does NOT apply to veggie oil, which Customs and Excise laughably claim is a 'diesel fuel substitute' Yet veggie oil was the originally intended fuel for the diesel engine. Even if you are lucky enough to get this lower rate for vegetable oil, it still would amount to 85p. Not really any incentive, is it?
So the only real option is to collect waste veggie oil and use that. In Germany, they have scrapped the tax on both biodiesel AND vegetable oil. Over there, it seems the govt really do want people to use renewable energy.

Don't expect any discount from the DVLA on your road tax either for going green, even though a 2 liter diesel car running on vegetable oil has lower carbon emissions than a Smart car or hybrid Honda Prius. Oh, yes, and you will still be liable to pay the £8 London congestion charge.

And the government are continually telling us that we should all do more to reduce our carbon emissions, recycle more, use less energy, etc. etc., blah blah blah blah....
The reality on the ground is completely contradictory/hypocritical to what their various departments are doing.
And now they want to bring in road charging?? It's quite disgusting, and I'm sick and tired of it.

Ethical Man, if you're interested, then contact me, and I'll take you for a spin in my veggie mobile...

  • 60.
  • At 04:49 PM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • Graham wrote:

I read about some new software being marketed in Japan which helps you plan a car journey based on minimum fuel usage.Has anyone else heard of it? I can't remember much about it but it sounded interesting and I never kept the reference.

  • 61.
  • At 10:41 PM on 05 Dec 2006,
  • Kingsley wrote:

I own a Jaguar XKR, it does about 19MPG, it's band G for carbon emissions.
I really don't care what you cretins say. I love my car it’s a wonderful piece of English engineering.
One day the sun will explode and all this will be meaningless, no amount of recycling, vegetarianism or wind farms will stop that.
Live life for today, we need to find another planet to inhabit if the human race is to survive.
Travel and traveling benefits our economy, science and progress in general.
Any attempt to undermine people traveling by plane, car or boat will be a step in the wrong direction.
Let’s all go live in an eco-cave and throw sticks at each other or progress forwards.
Build more roads.
Lower fuel duty.
Raise the speed limit
Paint targets on speed cameras

Anyway back to driving around for the sheer fun of it I go……

  • 62.
  • At 10:19 AM on 19 Dec 2006,
  • resa wrote:

so you scrapped a car just to get a cool video?

sure londoners could survive without a car. and yes car sharing is a great idea. but the things you've done to make your point aren't exactly environmental or ethical.

It is carbon neutral
It is renewable
It can be grown and manufactured locally
It has lower, cleaner emissions
It has better lubricating properties than mineral diesel, so it better for the engine

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